Season One: “Civilization” (The Sarcasm Episode)
Plot: The teaser opens in the Situation Room. In response to Archer’s question about what’s out there in the vicinity, T’Pol lists first a nebula, then a “cluster of three neutron stars, very rare” but is interrupted by Trip’s, you guessed it, sarcastic, “How ‘bout that? Three stone cold stars. Pretty exciting, huh?” as he drawls out “stone,” and “cold” to emphasize their lack of appeal. When a visibly disappointed Archer asks if there’s anything else, Trip responds with just a hint of glee, “There is one other thing, might be worth swingin’ by to take a look,” and then cannot keep the joy and excitement out of his voice, “A Menshara class planet—about 4 ½ light years away!”
Lifesigns? Archer wonders. A delighted Trip responds, “Only about 500 million. If our scans are right, there’s a whole civilization down there.” And now, starting with Mayweather’s infectious grin, the other bridge officers start smiling, revealing they’ve intentionally let T’Pol set the agenda so as to keep Archer in the dark for as long as possible.
When the episode continues after the sarcasm free theme song and 50 minute commercial break the crew are checking out the planet; they’ve discovered it’s pre-industrial. T’Pol advises against a landing party, noting that it would be against protocols. Trip sneers back, “Those are Vulcan protocols, not human.” She flounces back that Starfleet would be out of their minds not to adopt them, but not exactly in those words. More Vulcan-like. They bicker a bit longer while T’Pol tries to limit their contact to sensors. Archer finally calls for a close-up on the inhabitants. With the make-up budget down, the locals—the Acali—prove to be almost identical to humans, and Archer moves noticeably over to Trip’s station to ask what he thinks. Does our Trippie disagree with his captain? What do you think? They’re heading for the dress-up box before T’Pol can take a breath.
A couple of scenes with Hoshi establish her excitement about the multiple new languages she could study as well as her nervousness about going on a landing party. Shortly after this T’Pol brings Archer evidence of neutrino emissions. Trip reacts for the audience: “These people don’t even have indoor plumbing!” It looks like someone else is down there in dress up clothes. The captain looks grim, but there’s an “oh goody!” in there somewhere. He was going anyway, but now he has a legitimate reason to investigate.
Archer, Hoshi, Trip and T’Pol take a shuttlepod planetside—not exactly to T’Pol’s preferred cornfield location, but sufficiently outside the city where the emissions are concentrated to deflect attention. On the way Trip does a cutie when he mimes, ‘your ears are showing’ to T’Pol whose long dark wig makes her look like a “Lord of the Rings” wannabe. On the surface they divide up into girls and guys. The girls, looking fetching in renaissance garb head off for city center where they encounter several seriously ill Acali. The guys, looking pretty cute themselves (although Trip’s cape/mantle thingy looks a size or two too large), zero in on the shop where the emissions are concentrated….but they are stymied by the locked door.
Damn. X-ty light years from home and our first mission is breaking and entering. (Trekdom cheered when Archer uttered the words even as we were thinking them.) Trip pulls out a handy-dandy 22nd century lock-picking tool and sooner than you can say pan-fried catfish they’re in. Of course the door to the secret basement has a fancier lock (TRIP! “Say Friend and enter!”), but before they can check it out, an attractive 30-something woman threatens them with a mini-crossbow, demanding information. T’Pol conveniently appears, but she can’t be bothered with small talk, and stuns her with a phaser. When Archer asks her to restrain her un-Vulcanlike trigger-finger, she deadpans “I’ll try” in one of the worst-delivered lines of the season. [I kind of expected her to roll her eyes and speak to the camera: “Whadaya expect? This whole scene is completely out of character for me!], but no, the show goes on like always. Trip, T’Pol and Hoshi head back to the shuttlepod while Archer takes the fallen woman home, watching over her until she awakes. [In a hopeful sign that the writers are at least trying to give the stories some coherence, T’Pol had pointedly given the Enterprise landing party forgeries of “necessary” identification papers. So, Archer now has a way to know where to take her.] Once awake, the now-identified Riann is suspicious of Archer’s origins, but intrigued enough not to throw him out. The conversation goes something like “Smirk, parry, smile,” “Deflect, smile, parry” “Eye roll, parry, smile.” Given enough time these two might get it together, but at this rate they’ll be lucky to exchange phone numbers before the episode is over.
In the morning Archer and Trip (apparently pulled out of the ether he’d been stored in while “Jon” dallied with Riann) go back to the now-open shop to encounter Garos. We know this oily guy is the villain the minute he opens his mouth. “Excuse me,” says Archer, “do you have a paper towel?” No, what he really does is set up the unsuspecting, but willing-to-play-along Trip as an “amateur collector.” “Uhhhh….those look interestin’” Trip bumbles, but Garos is not fooled, especially after Trip doesn’t recognize the local deity. “You’re not from around here,” he oozes.
“And neither are you!” snaps Archer. “Your DNA doesn’t match the locals.” (Take that! oily man!)
“Nyah, nyah, Neither does yours!” counters oily man. “How’d you find me?”
Trip slings back a vinegary, “We picked up the signature from your reactor.” (Do we look stupid?)
Garos drips another bucketload of grease about being an “explorer” from the Melurinan system who only wanted to settle down on this lovely planet and manufacture the occasional boot with his 500million gigagule reactor while the silly, superstitious apothecary just wants to blame him for the plague because he’s new. Trip’s and Archer’s eyes roll in synchrony, but oily man is saved by the fortuitous appearance of a customer.
The next scene Archer shows up at Riann’s laboratory with T’Pol. Although it made sense for her to do the scans there since she’s the science officer, *I* was wondering, Where’s Trip? Waiting on the sidewalk? Changing the plugs in the shuttlepod? And for that matter, where’s Hoshi? They had to take her down because of her translating skills, but she never did anything.
Archer introduces his “colleague,” T’Pol as another “scientist.” Riann gives the shapely T’Pol the once over and does the ‘Oh. Puhleeze.’ eyeroll but lets her look around as long as she “doesn’t touch anything.” Meanwhile Archer and Riann dance verbally and physically around her central table. “Light that burner.” “Now put this in that beaker.” “Turn off the flame.” …all interspersed between conversation about the plague she has been investigating. Smile. Parry. Deflect. And so it goes. T’Pol scans what she needs and is ready to go, but Archer wants to stay to see if he can “find out more.” She leaves for Enterprise, managing to make “Enjoy your tea” sound like “Yeah, Right, Horn-boy!” and the eyeroll count continues.
Back on Enterprise Phlox is impressed with Riann’s scientific methodology and discovers that the “plague” is caused by ‘tetracyanate622’ contaminating the water.
Down on the planet Archer and Riann stake out the curio shop hoping to trail one of the suspicious characters. Where’s Trip? Who knows? Taking a nap? Eating pie? Vanished into a writer’s aporia? Not here. Not with T’Pol.
Archer gets to play James T. Kirk when the universal translator goes on the blink. He tries to cover by kissing Riann while frantically pushing the reset button. CONTROL ALT DELETE! Why isn’t it working?!?!?! He gets in another smooch using the universal cornball maneuver and recovers nicely by pretending someone was walking by. Riann rolls her eyes for the rest of us, but she’s interested.
The midnight connection arrives with a hand-pulled cart, loads a bunch of crates and takes off, and from here on the plot takes off with him shifting into straight adventure mode. Archer and Riann follow him to the woods where they see a big ass space ship, right out of the X-Files, shine a tractor-beam light thingy and lift the crates into the interior. Immediately afterward a planetside alien starts shooting phaser-like fire at them, but Archer defeats him.
Back at the shop Archer and Riann get into the basement (Why is it so easy NOW?) and discover a huge mining operation. They find the reactor, but it’s shielded. Our Man Trip wants to come down and have a crack at it. (OH, There’s Trip!. He’s been at the engineering station of the bridge!) but Archer says to wait. He and Riann debate about which button to push and sure enough hit the wrong one, setting off alarms.
Garos contacts T’Pol on the bridge saying Archer’s dead. This planet isn’t big enough for both of them, so she’d better go. Then, like the bad guy he is, he shoots before Enterprise gets a chance to draw. The ship rocks (in space, no less!) and Trip shuts off a burning overhead monitor (Brave Trip!). Meanwhile Archer works furiously to shut down the forcefield while sleazy Garos tries to get them to open the cellar door by pretending he’s going to let them go. Nobody even bothers to roll an eye because they’re too busy trying to save their asses. Sarcasm goes on hold for the remainder of the episode.
Back on Enterprise Reed reports that the Melurian ship is charging weapons. T’Pol orders Mayweather to prepare to breakout of orbit. Trip goes ballistic. Righteous as the threat of hellfire he countermands her, “Belay that! Keep this ship right where it is!” rising upright even as he speaks. T’Pol reminds him that she outranks him but he doesn’t give a rat’s ass. He orders Billy from engineering to prepare to vent the nacelles. I didn’t do my warp field theory homework last week, but I think that means the ship would be dead in the water—a favorite Tripism, so that seems likely. Turning to T’Pol he shouts, “We’re not going anywhere!” ‘I’m not leaving the Captain! You heartless Vulcan bitch!’ hangs unsaid.
But apparently T’Pol didn’t get the memo about pocketing the sarcasm. Standing ten feet away she pins him against the monitors with actual daggers coming out of her eyes. In a voice that would freeze a volcano she explains Word. By. Word. that she didn’t say, “leave orbit,” she said, “prepare to leave orbit.” And that she had no intention of leaving the captain, “dead or alive.”
Trip nods acceptance, contrite. [So literal, those Vulcans. What’s he supposed to think?]
Planetside, Archer finally gets the field down and Trip heads for the turbolift even as the ship takes another hit. Down at the transporter he struggles to enter the coordinates of the reactor while the ship continues to be buffeted by weapons fire. Yay! Our guys are going to steal the reactor!....but what are they going to do with it once they have it? The Melurian ship is right there. And much bigger.
now gets a chance to show her strategic abilities. She has Trip transport the
reactor first on to the ship, then directly in front of the Melurian ship. One torpedo blast from Reed and
it’s the Melurians who are dead in the water.
Meanwhile back on the planet, Archer gets into a firefight with Garos, but is able to defeat him using a suggestion from Riann to heat the oil lamps in the street. He set his phase pistol to “boiling oil,” and the lamps explode in a mini version of T’Pol’s strategy. The moral here is obviously, Don’t try to deceive smart women, it only makes them mean.
The episodes ends back in Riann’s apothecary shop. Archer brings her enough medicine to cure those affected, and after an awkward moment, they kiss.
Review: This was clearly the episode where the producers were going to make good on their promise to make Enterprise more like the original Star Trek. There were firefights, fistfights, explosions, eleventh hour solutions, and the captain got to kiss the girl. They didn’t do it again. And for good reason.
Oh. It was all right, but it wasn’t Jim and Bones and Spock. And it was a mistake to make us think of them. For one thing, Bakula plays Archer as far too gentlemanly and courtly to convincingly sweep a lady off her feet on every planet. It’s not that he couldn’t. He’s handsome, and sexy, and very well built. But Archer just doesn’t come across as a ladies man. The scenes with Diane DiLascio had a certain charm because she played Riann as a smart woman who not only saw through Archer’s deception about his identity, but saw and reacted to their mutual attraction. The scene in the lab works despite the old “I’m just making tea, did I you think it was poison?” gimmick. And it works because there are two smart women who understand Archer better than he does himself. He comes across as almost innocent and naïve to their (other?) worldly understanding of the ways of men.
That’s one reason why the kiss ruse is so unbelievable—not unbelievable that they might be attracted to each other, unbelievable that this naïve, gentlemanly man would use a kiss as an excuse to distract a strange woman. Kirk yes. Archer no.
So. While the plot was okay for a “let’s go to a backward planet and rescue the natives” kind of episode, the execution was wrong for the characters created for Enterprise. That in itself is a testimonial to the actors, “Civilization” is but the seventh episode and already we have a clear idea of what these characters should and should not be doing. Another glaring plot error was having T’Pol shoot Riann instead of knocking her out with a Vulcan nerve pinch. She didn’t have to shoot her; it was completely out of character for a Vulcan to do so in those circumstances; and the aftermath was some very lame dialogue.
But the fights were good. Archer wins this time—before he gets his first season reputation as a punching bag. And the space battle was tense and believable.
It was also fun seeing the translator device break down—even if the plot device was a bit lame, it’s nice to see that their technology isn’t the answer to everything. In fact, a lot of this episode was about using one’s wits rather than technology. Riann is the poster child for the dawn of the scientific revolution on her planet. We see her using scientific methodology to try to solve the problem of the plague—she would, but she just doesn’t have 500 years of scientific developments behind her to help. We see her carefully considering the options about which button to push to shut off the force field around the reactor—more carefully than Archer. We see her figure out a way to defeat Garos using the knowledge she has gained. And we see T’Pol use her wits to defeat the much more powerful Melurian vessel.
Another happy device in this episode is the replaying of themes first introduced in the pilot. When events that occur in one episode reoccur a few episodes later, the audience can begin to trust the picture it has developed for each character. For example, the freshness and excitement about exploring “strange new worlds” that dominated “Broken Bow” radiates out of Trip’s face in the teaser. We can almost hear him say, “Look, Cap’n! we found a planet with people like us!” Similarly, both Hoshi’s love of languages and her nervousness about being in space get repeated in this episode.
T’Pol’s insistent restraint, which feels so much like chains to Archer and Trip, rings true from “Broken Bow” through this episode as well. At this point the audience is still on the side of Trip and the Captain and the writers set up our emotions to be against T’Pol. We almost shout at the screen: ‘Leave them alone, spoilsport! Let them go do what they want to do!’ It will not be until well into the second half of the season that the crew—and the audience—begin to recognize that T’Pol was right in advocating restraint.
I’ll close by noting that “Civilization” shows Archer visibly aligned with Trip. In the opening scene after the teaser he makes a point of walking across the bridge to stand next to Trip. He wants support for going down to the planet, and he moves to the one man he knows will give it to him unquestioningly. T’Pol is an obstacle, and the two men work together against her. But by the end of the season, Archer will begin to look to T’Pol first. We are able to gauge his growing trust in her only because of episodes like “Civilization” which show how far he had to go.
Hair factor? Yep. Mussed, at least not the Regular Boy comb over 1 point
Food factor? Nada. Nobody gets anything but that one little cup of tea Riann gives Archer! How’s a body to survive? Zip.
Adorableness Factor: The little “fix your hair” bit in the shuttlepod was cute, but not high order Adorable. Maybe an extra 5 points
Trip gives T’Pol his WTF look: yep, right before he countermands her order: 10 points.
Trip Time: For third in line, yeah, I think he did pretty well. 10 points.
Skin factor. Nope. We do get to see Trip in alternative clothing, and that is always a bonus—he even says, “M’feet would be a whole lot happier in m’own boots.” But no underwear and no skin. Alas.
Trip Quotes: Nothing memorable. [Whadaya mean nothing memorable?! All Trip quotes are memorable. Exactly. None of these stand out from the rest—possibly “We’re not going anywhere!” simply because of the forceful way Trinneer delivered it.]
Quality Trip Time: This is only 26 points which according to our guidelines is okay, but less than stellar. Yet Trip had some good moments, so I have to add 10 point for Quality Trip Time which boosts it up to 36 points. According to our guidelines, that puts “Civilization” solidly as a “Good Episode.”
Weeellll. Okay. Good minus maybe.
The episode as an episode was a bit of a retread—the wrong plot for Archer in particular. B-/C+
But the Trip stuff was solid.